Warts are skin growth caused by a viral infection. They are benign, which means they are not tumours and can't turn into cancer. They are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), which can infect the skin after wounds, cuts or other type of damage to its surface. All of these viruses are contagious and can be transmitted to others after direct or indirect contact with the surface of a wart.

There isn't a single virus responsible for warts, but over 100 varieties of HPV. Most warts emerge on the hands or feet and are usually harmless. Some types of the virus cause warts on the genitals or around them, which are a lot more dangerous. Genital warts can evolve into cervical cancer in women, which is sometimes a lethal disease. Because of the much higher risk, genital warts should not be ignored. If you notice one, you should ask for medical advice as soon as possible.

Warts are usually classified in four major types. Common warts are the most often encountered, just as their name suggests. They are small growths with a hard consistency, with a gray or brown color and a cupola shape. They usually appear on fingers, hands, elbows or knees. Their rough surface might have several black dots and resembles a cauliflower.

Flat warts are tiny and flat on the top, not as rough as the other types. They usually appear isolated on the face but can also be found in groups or on the hands, arms or knees. They are more common in kids and can have various colors, from yellow to pink or brown.

Plantar warts only grow on the feet soles. They are hard and can really impair walking, since the feeling is similar to permanently having a small stone in your shoes.

Warts shaped like a finger are named filiform warts. These are located on the face, on the eyes, nose and mouth or around it. They are usually the same color as the rest of the skin.

The vast majority of warts appear on the fingers, hands, and feet. However, some can be sexually transmitted and affect the genitals and the area around them, being a lot more dangerous than the rest.

What are the symptoms of warts?

Warts are usually a minor problem and the infection stays only on the skin surface. They are sometimes painful or can be uncomfortable in some locations but often they are considered to be a problem for cosmetic rather than medical reasons.

It is a good idea to know the basic information about warts, in order to better understand their symptoms. This can also be very useful when selecting a treatment, since it allows you to identify the exact type of outbreak.

Some warts have a small dot in their center, which is visible on closer examination. This is actually a clogged blood vessel. Like all parts of the body, warts are fed by blood vessels that bring nutrients to their area. They are fragile and can burst, which floods the tissues around the area with blood. This can be painful and uncomfortable. Warts located on the foot are especially vulnerable to this type of problem.

Warts can also cause the skin to lose its pigment and become discolored. The wart itself can have a different color than the rest of the skin but the area around it can be affected as well. The growths are typically the same color as the skin but they can also become grey or a darker color. When the wart is healed, the color usually reverts to normal. However, if the discoloration persists, it might be a more serious issue.

Filiform warts and other particular types can also be itchy, which can be extremely annoying. Even if it's hard to resist, you must not scratch the wart or even the zones around it. Scratching can hurt the skin and allow bacteria to penetrate it, potentially starting a new secondary bacterial infection close to the wart.

Flat warts can have a specific symptom, known as smooth pustules. Flat warts are smoother and a lot less rough than any other type. However, they can cause a bigger problem since they are usually located on the face and a number of them can merge into a larger lesion, covering a wide area.

Periungual warts can cause a problem named onychauxis in medical terms, actually the nails becoming thicker than usual. It can affect the nails on both fingers and toes and makes them hard or discolored. Sometimes, the entire structure of a nail can be compromised, if the viral infection develops under it.

Filiform warts sometimes lead to fleshy protrusions, which are the hardest symptom to tolerate due to aesthetic reasons and can cause severe mental stress. These are located on the face and have a specific shape, resembling a finger. They can be extremely visible and distressing, especially since the head of the wart can have smaller growths with a white color.

All warts actually consist of keratin, a common protein found in the structure of the skin. This protein builds up in the epidermis, which is the top skin layer, creating the hard rough bumps. They usually have a very coarse and irregular surface. In some cases, the skin remains affected even after the wart had healed. Moisturizers and ointments can be used to hydrate the skin in the area, which allows it to eventually regain its normal aspect.

Treatment options

Most warts are harmless and can be safely ignored, with no real need to eliminate them. Without treatment, warts eventually heal on their own but it can take between 6 months and 2 years.

If a wart is painful or is located in a position that causes discomfort, doctors can choose to remove them. Several options are available, the doctor will select the most appropriate one. Warts can be removed by burning them with current, using a laser or after being frozen with liquid nitrogen, a procedure known as cryosurgery. It is also possible to eliminate them by applying various medicines on their surface, some of which don't require any kind of prescription.

Cutting off a wart using surgical tools is rarely used today, since it is possible for the wart to grow again or for a scar to remain in the area. Sometimes, further treatment is required after a wart is eliminated.

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